Traditional Methods Of Teaching Music From The Perspective Of Scientific Pedagogy.
Most inhabitants of the Earth are musically illiterate: they cannot read and write the language of music. Many people are not able to learn to read music, even after several years of private lessons with a teacher. Society is divided into two distinct groups: professional musicians and the illiterate masses.
At the same time, the majority of those who live in civilized countries today, do not have too much difficulty mastering the letters of the ABC and primers. Sometimes children can remember the alphabet while still in day care. Some of them learn the letters and can read fluently by themselves or with the help of their parents, long before they go to school.
Only a minority know that this has not always been the case. For centuries the populations of Europe, and then America, were as illiterate as they are now musically illiterate. One of the root causes of this inability to read and write was ineffective teaching methodology, referred to as "traditional" and based on the medieval scholastic platform.
SCHOLASTICISM (Greek. scholastike from the word: school)
1. The common name of the medieval idealistic philosophy, building a philosophical system not on an analysis of reality, but on the dogmas of the Church (Philosophy, History).
- Knowledge disconnected from life and practice, that is based on formal considerations, unverified by experience, pointless philosophizing, dogmatism, punctiliousness (Literary).
This method was out of touch with human perception and based on the mindless memorizing of abstract information and theoretical rules. As a result, only the most gifted students became proficient at reading and writing. Even so, these results took a long time to achieve and were difficult, even for them.
Nevertheless, by 16th century the first text books had been published in which the presentation of the text had been adjusted for visual perception. However, these 'new shoots' did not survive the battle with the stagnant waters of tradition, strongly 'rooted' in the dogmas of the Christian Church. It took about four hundred years, for progressive ideas on effective teaching, based on the unique features of perception, to 'take root' in everyday teaching practice.
A unique phenomenon occurred in pedagogy, when a theoretical discovery of the 16th century, was found to have practical confirmation four centuries later. Today, in most countries of the world, the current curriculum for teaching children to read and write, can safely be used as an illustration in textbooks of scientific pedagogy.
The psychology of human perception is unvarying: whether one is learning a language, music, mathematics or geography. Principles lie in the foundation of any process, without knowledge of them all learning becomes slow, painful and ineffective. Education, building on the natural characteristics of the human mind, is used in scientific didactics. For every teacher, knowledge of the basic framework of this subject, is as important as the knowledge of physiology in medicine or chemistry in pharmacy.
How appropriate are the traditional methods of music education from the perspective of the principles of didactics? What is the reason for low efficiency with learning to read music? That is the subject of this article.
Nearly four hundred years ago, in 1631, the first textbook with pictures for learning, 'The Gate of Tongues Unlocked,' appeared. It was based on the innovative principle of connecting each object with it's name. It was created by the founder of scientific pedagogy, a shining light of the Renaissance, John Amos Comenius.
'The Visible World in Pictures,' was not an unintentional discovery of Comenius. It's creation was preceded by many years of work in schools and scientific research in the field of pedagogy. John Comenius regarded pedagogy, first and foremost as a science, rather than a philosophy, because the individual was it's foundation, not scholastic argumentation.
He was the first one in the history of didactics to, not only stress the need to be guided by principles in teaching, he also provided insight into the contents of these fundamentals. Having learned to effectively teach children with very different levels of abilities(after working with intellectually and physically disabled persons), the scholar came to the conclusion, that all people are able to and need to, learn to read and write, from a young age, regardless of the extent of their capabilities. However that is possible only on one condition: a deep understanding of how human perception works.
At the end of 16th Century, Comenius's idea was embraced by a teacher, Karion Istomin. In 1692, in Moscow, he published his handwritten Alphabet Book. It embodied the principles of visual learning:
As you can probably see, the letter 'Z' shown in the pictures for zmeya(snake) zenitsy (pupil of the eye), zemli(earth)....Abstract, unknown, was only one quarter of the page(text) and three quarters, which consisted of pictures with specific images, helped to determine the content of the abstract section.
John Comenius and Karion Istomin were quite well known and respected teachers of their time. Comenius was received in many European courts. Istomin was the private teacher of Peter the Great,(Peter 1) of Russia and his children and also Mikhail Lomonosov. But this proved insufficient for the implementation of their new methods of teaching into practice in 17th Century.
In the basis of the traditional education system lay an approach, which had existed since the days of Ancient Greece.
The ABC ... was embodied in an ancient literacy system for combining letters, inherited from the Greeks and Romans. It was entirely based on memorizing texts by rote. Initially the teacher forced the children to memorize the appearance and name of letters, then put them together and also to learn separate syllables using a letters scheme – A [ey], B [bee:], C [see:] After this came the memorization of grammatical terms and reading the words in syllables. Only after long and mind-numbing exercises, which sometimes took a year or two, the student was able to read coherently(and write) A.I. Markushevich. Preface to the book 'From Ivan Fyodorov's Alphabet to the modern Primer.' Authors of the text, VG Goretskii and GV. Karpyuk. Education 1974
It appeared, that society was not ready for new ideas in education. The 'traditional,' scholastic approach, based on learning by rote, proved stronger than the innovative one. Over several decades the bright and non traditional alphabet, so different from the ordinary, was unjustly forgotten. Shown below are a few examples of traditional 'ABC's' between 16th and 19th Centuries. They were used to teach a large portion of the population of Europe.
England, the end of 16th Century
Russia, the end of 17th Century
Europe, the end of 18th Century
Russia, the end of 19th Century
The viewpoint that education should be joyless, difficult, harsh and drawn out, is in agreement with the philosophy of the Middle Ages. Physical punishment of students, accompanied by moral humiliations were a natural part of life of every individual, regardless of his social class.
Although it is hard to believe, some vestiges of medieval perceptions have survived up to the present time. The first of those vestiges is the entrenched view that learning, a priori is suppose to be difficult.
The second mistaken assertion, that has survived to our day, is that pedagogy–is a philosophy, not a science. This misconception justifies the vestiges of scholastic learning and hinders the development of new learning.
An analysis of common approaches to teaching music in international practice, however shows, that today, in 21st Century, we teach children the language of music with such methods as were used in the Middle Ages. They prevailed in church schools, up until the 20th century. This is easy to trace, after learning the basic principles of didactics, forming the foundation of modern scientific pedagogy and described in John Amos Comenius's work, 'The Great Didactic.'
- the principle of conformity to natural laws
- the principle of consciousness and activity;
- the principle of visualization
- the principle of gradual and systematic knowledge
"The shrewd builder constructs in such a way, that the building rests entirely on its own foundations and is supported by its own girders, without any external assistance.”
Comenius believed that the basis of learning should be the practical personal experience of the individual, not scholastic rationale prepared by someone else.
These illustrations, accompanying the alphabet, are an example of a new type of learning. The picture beside each letter is the connecting link, the bridge between the abstract symbol and our perception of each one.
Every abstract symbol has it's own specific characteristics, the understanding of which lies in the essence of all learning. Each letter, for example, has its own phonetic name and individual shape.
When a person sees a picture, he knows without doubt, what is depicted on it, what it is called and how it is pronounced. He is relying on his personal experience, and has a firm foundation, on which he builds when learning something new. What is unknown is the symbol of the letter. Independently solving the identity of this symbol is a vivid example of the principle of conformity to natural laws in practice. This application of visualization is 'the foothold' for the next step in consciously learning to read and write.
Let everything flow freely, away with constraint of movement.
John Amos Comenius
Using the same scholastic principle–the labyrinth principle or task with many unknowns–"traditional" textbooks of earlier centuries were created.
Alphabet 1717 St. Petersburg
This Alphabet book from the beginning of 17th Century places two unknown challenges before the student: he must memorize the abstract numbers by using abstract words. So many unknowns deprives a person of 'a foothold' and makes the process of learning forceful and inhumane. Drilling is the only solution with this approach.
In today's traditional music education the principle of conformity to natural laws is absent from the first step of learning: not the piano keys, nor the notes, nor the letters that identify them have any connection with the previous experience of beginners:
Learning in this way, the pupil does not have a single 'foothold' from a specific life experience and is forced to learn by rote, from the very first steps, as in the Middle Ages. Computerization of the method does not change the way this works:
The use of computerization in these examples does not change the scholastic learning platform, foreign to human perception.
THE PRINCIPLE OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND ACTIVITY
'When teaching young people, everything must be done as plainly as possible, so that not only the teacher, but also the student, understands, without difficulty, where he is at and what he is doing.'
John ComeniusA book, on its own, no matter how interesting and exciting it is, is not able to adjust to the perception of the reader. For many years scholastic pedagogy has been involved in attempting to suppress, not only the natural talents of students of any age, but also their abilities, under the rigid and established format of the Bible and the Psalms. As a result, only the most gifted students learned to read. Everyone else received a painful "lesson": the feeling of inferiority and not belonging to the world of the "literate."
If, for example, we invited a first grader and university professor to take a look at this book, each one would perceive it differently. The pupil would be frightened by the amount of words and the professor would glance only briefly at the picture. If the beginner was forced to read that text, he would put much effort into forming the letters into syllables and words, and also trying to 'follow the line,' so it is unlikely that he would understand what is written there. If the professor was forced to describe the picture, he would find this an incredibly boring task, as the text would give him much more information for consideration. In the first and the second situations we violate the most important principle of didactics–the principle of consciousness and activity. When violating that principle, we destroy people's ability to think creatively and to develop.
Achieving a balance between abstract and specific information, was a persistent problem in learning to read over several centuries. Today every individual takes for granted the clear separation of books for children, teenagers, young people and adults. Not only that, the division is based, not only on the content of the text itself, but also on how it is presented visually. The less experienced the reader, the more pictures and the bigger the letters and words that should be used in the book. The opposite is true also.
1 2 34 5
The medieval, scholastic, "traditional" approach to learning reading and writing did not allow any changes to the text for the benefit of perception, the authors of primers not only refrained from using illustrations, they also considered them to be detrimental to students. There was a popular belief that reading and writing was, in any case, only for the privileged.
Using this approach, the student was considered as a passive entity, obedient and devoid of their own opinion or initiative. New knowledge, as it were, was pushed into one’s consciousness, without the involvement of the individual’s will. It was not accidental, that the subject of beatings with rods and humiliation of students, was common in old-style illustrations in early primers.
Here you can see a page from an early Russian primer, dating from the beginning of the 18th Century and a music textbook for Grade 1 from 21st Century. These two books are united by one approach. According to this approach, the method of presenting the text remains unchanged. So the individual is subjected to agony and torture.
Over several centuries, the world of music pedagogy has accumulated a lot of different schools, methods and directions, aimed at perfecting the methods of rote learning. Not one of those methods dared to do the opposite: to change the existing supply of musical material to meet the need of human perception for visualization, as has been done with teaching people to read and write.
Nothing can be in one's consciousness, that has not earlier been experienced.
John Amos Comenius
These illustrations are clear examples of the direct analogy between personal experience and the abstract world. The letter B sounds like Bee in English.
The combination of the vowels Au and Ua are known to every Russian child as the sounds you make when you are looking for someone.
Prior to the advent of the ABC in pictures, letters were memorized by students in the "Alphabetical" abstract names (A(ey) ,B(bee), C(see), D(dee), E(ee)). Understanding the particular phonetic sound of each letter took some time. Having lost speed in reading the letters, the individual could not understand what he was reading.
The addition of pictures brought clarity to the process: when using images the student immediately isolates from the word–the set of phonetic sounds–the specific sound corresponding to the letter. The path from the visual perception of the letters to implementing them becomes significantly shorter. The word alongside the picture, in practice, it is the trainer for the forming of the syllables and words. Then the mind processes the information and stores it in the memory, accumulating valuable experience.
The same root problem exists in music. Specifically, deciphering the notes and converting them into sound, is a stumbling block in learning to read. The main causes of the complicated path from the notes to playing them are the visual imbalance between the keys and notes and the irrational use of visualization.
1.The visual imbalance of the keys and the notes.
Originally, the music staff was created for choir members and therefore the location of the notes on it according to the "from higher to lower" principle was justified. But with the invention of keyboard instruments, that have horizontal keyboards, the invention was transformed from visual into scholastic.
The need to read music notes from "top to bottom," and perform them from "right to left," is a scholastic task, that has no equivalent in modern elementary school.
The author of this study guide applied color to show the relationship between the keys and the notes, but did not do the most important thing, he failed to make it understandable to human visual perception.
2.The irrational use of visualization
It is well known that all the notes are drawn as identical circles and all keys identical rectangles. Separate encoding of each of the notes-keys in octaves–the octave approach–is the most common technique in music pedagogy.
Historically this approach became traditional. The reasons for this are as follows:
- It existed long before the appearance of the musical staff in ancient Greece.
- It appears justified, because in grammar we start with memorizing the letters and their sequence–the alphabet.
But the mechanisms for reading music and for reading literature, are designed differently. When you are learning to read and write "the name" of letter is the "key" to understanding its phoneme, in reading music notation the decisive factor is the location of the notes on the staff. The Octave approach to learning, directs the students' attention in the wrong direction. For if every note–key is individually named, it would suffice to construct them in one line, and the need for the staff disappears completely.
In practice, the difficulty in reading music begins with orientation in the same 10+ identical lines and the more than 11 spaces. Therefore, to teach students to successfully read music, it is necessary to use the graphic approach, instead of an octave (aural) approach.
What does the graphic approach mean?
Let's ask the experts:
"Whenever we attempt to make sense of information visually, we first observe similarities and differences in what we are seeing....Once we have an understanding of the relationships between elements, we can piece
together the whole story and understand what we are seeing. This process is accelerated by our ability to group information visually. When we observe one blade of grass, nearby objects that share a similar color, shape, size, and position are grouped together and given meaning: a lawn. We don't have to compare each blade to the others.
The principles of perception give us valuable insight into how we visually group information. For example, objects near each other are grouped (proximity), as are objects that share many visual characteristics (similarity).
Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization
Therefore, teachers efforts, aimed at creating visual aids, so as to remember the position of the notes on the octave, are missing the target:
In this illustration, the authors of the method have applied visual images for memorizing the names of the notes. In actual fact, the difficulty for the student is not grasping the letter D, but the location of the musical note in the "forest" of lines that look the same.
To make learning to read music at least as successful as learning to read, you need to adopt from grammar the focus on the result–the effectiveness of the recognition of the notes, together with accuracy and speed in playing them. The graphic approach/this means should be used in relation to the perception of the musical text, and not the reading text.
1. Since all the notes on the staff are located either on the lines, or between them, they should be coloured in two contrasting colours, so that the students see the difference and do not have to be guessing. For example, it is necessary to color the notes on the lines red, and the notes in the spaces between them blue.
2. Since the lines and the spaces between them are the same "tracks" for writing the notes, they are in "Alphabetical" presentation and should be the same width, so that beginners can see this clearly.
3. As the Treble and Bass keys are two complementary systems, they should also be presented as two harmoniously matching colors, for example, the colors of a tree: brown and green, so that the person can see definitely where the first key is and where the second one is and feel totally confident.
4. As the notes are arranged on staffs from higher to lower, and on the piano keyboard from right to left, the staffs need to turned upward 90 degrees keys, so that the student does not have to guess about the relationship of the notes and keys, but can clearly see and feel it.
5.Since, when the key staffs are turned, they become a visual continuation of the lines and spaces, an identification diagram must also be placed on them, so that the student can see each key, and can always imagine, where it is and what is around it with the help of his organs of perception, not some mental calculations.
6.As there are many sounds, keys and notes, but only seven names in music, it is necessary to place those names directly on the notes and keys, so that the student instantaneously and clearly sees where which note(key) is and does not lose his way guessing, figuring them out in his head.
Only this kind of 'Alphabetical' staff allows visualization in its most direct application. The names of the notes are learned naturally in the process of mastering reading music in practice, as is required in the Principle of didactics of Comenius, 'What one needs to know about things, should be taught by the things themselves....'
'Learning ... should start with what is known and progress to the unknown, from what close to what is further away.'
'All lessons should be organized in such a way, so that new material is always based on what has gone before and attached to what follows.'
Gradualism can be interpreted in different ways. The basic criterion for the gradual transition from pictures with texts to texts with pictures, and later just text without pictures, is that each student becomes coordinated, a fluent reader: the more easily he can follow the material, the less difficulties he experiences, the less he needs visual support.
On this page of a 1965 primer it is clear, how the pictures identifies and even 'voices' the vowel 'A' and 'y' [oo]. On the next page, the new letter 'M' is added to the known and mastered vowel, and is also grasped with the help of the supporting illustrations and the aural memory of the child. Therefore, the second page contains approximately 25% new information(the letter M) and 75% that is already known and mastered.
This was the approach to the curriculum in 17th Century
Primer of Simeon Polotsky. Prayer for memorization 1679
"The teachers showed students cards with letters, syllables and words. Some of them made, "ABC's" for their students, small books that contained the alphabet and also the 'Our Father Prayer,' and 'Hail Mary.' Speech sounds, that had stuck in the child's memory in elementary school, took on visible shapes. Students mentally connected the sounds and letters, and named them out loud.
An important moment in the teaching of reading was reached when after reading the syllables, the student tried to read a handwritten book, and after the invention of printing, and the printed book. After many repetitions of these classical texts, they were learned by heart. The rule of medieval learning was first to memorize texts and then later to understand them. This applied not only to reading syllables and primary reading, but also to the advanced reading. The memories of a pupil served as his own personal library. "(Nan Dodde . “Education in the Netherlands: History and Contemporaneity,” by Nan Dodde Netherlands:// Pedagogy of the peoples of the world: history and modernity. - M .: Pedagogical Society of Russia 2001. – (pg. 576). - pgs.235-258.)
However, one Alphabetical presentation of the music staff is not enough to successfully teach reading music, just as is not enough to have "The Alphabet in Pictures," to successfully learn to read. Following the method of rational gradualism we must bring the student to the understanding of abstract letters through experience with specific objects and pictures that teach. As in the case when learning to read, "visual props" should gradually be taken away in sequence, ensuring a healthy balance between the development of coordination and the abstract thinking of any individual.
Therefore, musical notation, can be represented by the following six modifications:
The First Modification. The names of the notes and keys, so that the beginner can learn to feel comfortable with the lines and spaces.
The Second Modification We remove 25% of the information–the pictures, with the names of the notes and keys, so that the beginner can learn to feel comfortable with the lines and spaces.
Third Modification We "put a tree in place." That is, we turn the sheet music to the usual horizontal position and return the pictures to their place, so that the student doesn't lose his way after this transformation:
Fourth Modification Again the images are removed–25% more complex.
Also, gradually, the area of the keys is mastered with the help of stickers and markers.
'Schools should let all students use their own senses in such a way, that they, themselves, see, hear, touch, smell, taste everything that they can and should see, hear, etc., so that they release their natural senses from endless uncertainties and delusions.'..from the works of John Comenius
I do not consider that I am sinning against the truth, if I write, that Comenius's discoveries regarding pedagogy were ahead of their time for many centuries into the future. Thus, the possibilities of computer graphics and interactive computer-based training make the basic skills of reading music even more effective and meet the requirements of the "Great Didactics," described by the philosopher of the 16th Century.
Tradition ensures stability. However we must learn to recognize where tradition ends and where an elementary conservatism approach begins. It is not based on the natural laws of psychology of human perception. When traditions are being established, it is important that they bring students the joy of learning and the desire to grow and improve. This will benefit not only the art of music but also the society in which we live.
'What one need to know about things, should be taught by the things themselves....'
'Learning ... should start with what is known and progress to the unknown, from what close to what is further away.'
'All lessons should be organized in such a way, so that new material is always based on what has gone before and attached to what follows.'
In this picture of a first piano lesson it is difficult to find the already mastered, known information:
This illustrates a lesson from a modern textbook for Grade 1. Here the child is expected to navigate simultaneously, using his eyes, not only between the 45 white keys and the 32 black ones, but also the 20 black lines of the music staff and the more than 22 white spaces.
As a "reference point" it is suggested that he remember the three white keys that look exactly the same and four notes of exactly the same shape and color. The keys and the notes are completely unrelated to each other visually and it is unlikely that the student, looking at one and trying to find the second can "understand without difficulty, where he is and what he is doing.”